By and  on November 27, 2007

Virtual bargain hunters flocked to the Web Monday to capitalize on a barrage of one-day discounts and free-shipping offers from online retailers across the price spectrum.

"We've seen quite a big spike this Cyber Monday over last year — 35 percent," said Eva Jeanbart Lorenzotti, founder and chief executive officer of Vivre, an online retailer. "There's been a huge spike in traffic. More and more people are buying online."

That's because they're getting more comfortable on the Web, want to save on gas dollars by making fewer trips to the mall and have come to expect deals on Cyber Monday, a term coined two years ago when retailers noticed a surge in shopping online the Monday after Thanksgiving, much of it by people sneaking in some Web time at work.

On Monday, the discounts were ubiquitous and there's been a frenzy of media hype for days, fueling the online action.

Experts expected Cyber Monday to post a record day on the Internet, though they won't know for sure until the results are tallied up today.

"It will probably be a record, if for no other reason than more people are shopping the Internet," observed Tim Finley, managing director of Alvarez & Marsal, a turnaround and restructuring firm. "Black Friday turned out pretty good because of discounts. It seems logical this would also happen online. The discounts are severe, they are planned and are bound to impact margins. The question is how much inventory is out there."

By the afternoon, it was looking good.

Traffic on CyberMonday.com, a virtual clearinghouse for the day's deals from 550 online retailers, was tracking three times higher than traffic last year, according to Mall Networks, which powers the site. By 1 p.m., the site had more than one million visitors. "Online retailers stepped up their promotions on Cyber Monday this year, and millions of consumers responded," Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org., said in a statement.

BIGresearch predicted 72 million consumers would shop online this year on Cyber Monday; 54.5 percent of office workers with Internet access, or 68.5 million people, will shop from work for gifts this year, compared with 50.7 percent in 2006.Amazon.com did brisk business with beauty gift baskets. Top sellers included Philosophy's three-piece candy cane hatbox for $35; Caudalie's Spa in a Box, advertised as a $100 value for $59, and Jo Wood Organics' four-piece set for $185. On endless.com, a shoe and handbag site operated by Amazon.com, Trina Turk's Florence clutch was a top seller at $230, along with Nine West's Dinessa, $78.95. "We noticed two big bumps today and that was gift-related items, primarily cashmere and cocktail shoes and clutches, big time," said a spokeswoman.

At Vivre, outerwear, jewelry, ready-to-wear, handbags, shoes and home were popular. Vivre redesigned its home page a week before Thanksgiving and improved its navigation. The company also dropped its first gift catalogue, Giving With Style, which drove traffic to the site.

Holli Rogers, head of retail at Net-a-Porter, said as of around 4 p.m., Cyber Monday sales were 50 percent above last year's. "We still have quite a bit of trading time left in the U.S.," said Rogers, who is based in the U.K. "I anticipate that by the end of the day, we'll be 75 percent ahead."

Rogers attributed the increase to consumers being more Internet savvy. In addition, Net-a-porter recently launched a viral ad campaign on its home page. "We've seen a lot of sales come off that campaign," she said. Handbags, particularly from Jimmy Choo and Chloé, are bestsellers, along with dresses. The middle of the week, when new products are posted, and closer to Christmas could be even bigger than Monday, she noted.

"Our gut feeling is that people shop a lot closer to Christmas time," Rogers said.

James Griffith, dean of education at eBay, said, "Overall, Cyber Monday is going very well. We've seen a marked increase in all categories, which began five days ago. Cyber Monday isn't over yet, but based on what we're seeing from Black Friday, we're confident this is going to be a record-breaking year."

Traffic to merchants selling clothing and accessories on Shopping.Com increased 52 percent from last year's Black Friday, Griffith said. EBay's apparel category had a 29 percent increase. "More and more people are comfortable with the Internet and they're utilizing it as their primary shopping vehicle," he said.Cyber Monday, however, is not the busiest time for eBay. Rather, it's the second Monday of December, which the company nicknamed Green Monday. Griffith said eBay shoppers are much more comfortable doing the bulk of their online shopping later in the season, especially since many eBay sellers accommodate last-minute shoppers by offering discounted or free shipping.

Cautious to negative economic forecasts have not "stopped people from aggressively hunting for bargains," Griffith said. "What they're primarily interested in this season is the best value for the dollar. People aren't spending without thinking first. Right now, both on and offline retailers are breathing a sigh of relief that the [dismal] forecasts haven't been borne out."

Macy's was expecting big business on its Web site, and offered free shipping on orders of $75 or more. The chain also posted a host of "Web-busters" including private label Charter Club Henley sweaters marked down to $59.99 from $120, and 14-karat white gold diamond studs, down to $199, from $600.

"Our experience is that it's been the best or one of the best days of the year for macys.com. It was the largest last year," said a spokesman. This year, macys.com offers expanded assortments in beauty, accessories, furniture and mattresses, redesigned pages for product comparison and display, easier ordering and gift cards that can be personalized with photos and text messages.

However, at Saks Fifth Avenue, "Cyber Monday is really not as relevant for us. We do the bulk of our holiday Web business across several days. Thanksgiving Day was huge, up 140 percent over last year," said Denise Incandela, president of Saks Direct. She credited the increase to improved assortments and a more navigable site.

Saks did pump up its site for the season by adding a gift guide, free shipping, a video of Marlo Thomas reading the "Snowpeople" book (sales of which benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital), a video of the store's holiday windows, "wow" gifts up to $500,000 and more "giftables" such as handbags, shoes, fragrances, accessories, toys, gourmet food and "every kind of dessert you can imagine," Incandela said.

"It's always been a really strong day, but not our biggest day. The biggest days are in the middle of December, around the 11th and 12th," said Melissa Payner, president and ceo of Bluefly, which sells brands and designer goods online at anywhere from 20 to 75 percent off, and gives an extra 10 percent off on Cyber Monday.With the Cyber Monday still in progress, Payner projected sales from last Thursday through Cyber Monday would be up 15 to 16 percent. Cyber Monday was bolstered by men "shopping like crazy for themselves"; in women's, dresses and cashmere were among the standouts.

"Cyber Monday is a big day, but not the biggest day we see," said Brendan Hoffman, president of Neiman Marcus Direct. But a lot of the hubbub surrounding Cyber Monday, like that on Black Friday, is driven by the media. "This holiday season, we've seen more press about Cyber Monday than ever before," he said.

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